Now before I start I should say that I studied post-colonial theory and criticism at university, am deeply interested in the appalling history of Britain’s colonial exploits as well post-colonial fiction (more on that another time), and am a keen follower of current international development debates. Having said all that, I do love reading about the exploits of ex-pats living in foreign climes in the run up to and during the second world war as the colonial period was coming to an end.
My favourite two books of this genre also involve unsolved murders: White Mischief by James Fox and Blood and Fire: the duke of Windsor and the strange murder of Sir Harry Oakes by John Marquis.
White Mischief deals with the murder of the Earl of Errol and takes a very insightful look at the life of his mistress Lady Diana Broughton who was one of those unconventional upper class women of the interwar period. One of the main characters ends up dead in the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool many years after the main events of the book. I had stayed in a very outdated room there a few years before reading the book, and I’d thought at the time how much is was like stepping back into a previous era.
Blood and Fire reinforced my view of the Windsors, being set in the bizarre period after Edward marries Mrs Simpson and the royal family and the government don’t know what to do with them and their treasonous behaviour. The case itself is fascinating and each theory seems more unlikely than the last.
Being basically quite nosy about other people’s lives, these two are perfect for me, as they are written in such a way that you were almost at the outrageous dinner parties they describe. You are also completely sucked into the quest (usally bungled or deliberately sabotaged) to find out who was responsible in these small-minded and insular communities thick with affairs, intrigue, spite and scheming.
Nothing is quite as likely to keep me up accidentally until 2am, as reading a book like this.